Detective trying to determine if dog has fear aggression

Are you wondering if your dog has fear aggression? There are a number of reasons a dog may become aggressive, but one of the most common causes is fear.

The very first step in addressing aggressive behavior is making sure you are certain of the cause.

If you aren’t sure of the cause, partner with a trainer, vet, or someone experienced to make sure you understand the root issue.


This is very important as the approach to address the behavior can vary greatly, depending on what’s causing it.


If you’re not totally confident your dog’s aggression is from fear, look for the following signs:

  • Ears back, often flattened against head
  • Head and/or body is lowered
  • Hackles are raised
  • Teeth (front and back) are bared
  • Nose is scrunched
  • Panting
  • Growling
  • Whining

Compare this to aggression that is motivated by a need to be dominant, to help you figure out the body language:


  • Ears are erect and not flattened back
  • Head and body posture (including tail) are high and rigid
  • Tail may wag
  • Only front teeth are bared
  • No panting 
  • Growling

If you treat the wrong root cause, you can create a behavioral situation that is very difficult to unravel.

So take some time if you need to, and make sure you are clear on what’s going on with your pet.

It may also help to understand what healthy dog meet-n-greets should look like, so you can gather additional information about your dog’s behavior.


When two dogs are interested in checking each other out, they will slowly arc, or kind of circle each other.

The next step is that they sniff each other’s rear ends. Very classy, I know. 

But it’s important to understand that if dogs approach each other face to face, that’s not a good sign. It means things are a little strained. 

However, after the rear-end sniffing, it’s common for dogs to get up in each other’s faces. 


Go online and find out if your breed of dog is naturally inclined to be fearful or is predisposed to struggle with new things or with change. 

If your breed of dog tends to be afraid, it will help you (as an owner) manage your expectations with regard to what behavior to expect from your new pet.


Your dog may frequently display behavior that’s not aggressive, but that does show you that he’s feeling fear. 

If you suspect your pet may be aggressive due to fear, look for some of the following behaviors as well.

These behaviors obviously need to be taken in context to be correctly interpreted, since there are many reasons the behavior could be occurring.

  • Yawning
  • Sniffing
  • Turning head or whole body away
  • Stiffening or becoming immobile
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Licking nose and lips
  • Slowing down actions—being careful or intentional
  • Lying down
  • Raising a paw
  • Sitting


There are many signs dogs display when they are feeling afraid. Learning to better interpret your dog’s body language will go a long way toward you knowing why they’re acting a certain way.  

If you think your dog is displaying fear aggression, read How to Handle Fear Aggression in Dogs.



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